Middle Earth movie magic
There’s plenty for fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies to see and do in the Waikato.
IIf the Shire is at the heart of Middle Earth, then the Hamilton and Waikato region is at the heart of the Shire. When scouting around for locations for his epic three movie adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Kiwi director Peter Jackson found just what he was looking for in the green rolling paddocks, rugged limestone outcrops and underground caverns of the Hamilton and Waikato region. The bucolic setting for the Shire, home of the Hobbits, including Bag End and The Party Tree standing majestically over the lake, was nestled on a sheep farm near the Waikato town of Matamata, just waiting for Sir Peter Jackson’s magical director’s touch. My group of friends had all agreed on a Middle Earth themed getaway, and after spending the day exploring Hamilton City
towards what was the highlight of the tour for me: Bag End, home to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. The green door of Bag End sits at the top of the hill, which, as our guide explains, signifies prominence amongst the hobbit community. After crossing the party field and admiring the large Party Tree, we make our way past the lake and over the double-arched bridge to The Green Dragon Inn. We quickly grab a delicious Southfarthing drink - “the only brew for the brave and true” - and wander around outside the pub, taking in the magic of this fascinating place. Before we know it, it’s time for our feast, and it really is a feast. There are two giant tables laden with all types of food, from roast vegetables and chicken to ham hocks and more. We sit down and eat till our heart’s content – not forgetting to leave room for dessert, of course. It was during dinner that we were also fortunate enough to meet the only resident at Hobbiton movie set, Pickles the cat, who was all too happy to accept some pats as he basked in the warmth of the fire. After dinner, we grabbed a lantern and followed our guide back through the movie set along a route not usually taken by daytime visitors. With a starry sky above us and the hobbit holes lit up like the residents had just returned home, we were once again reminded of how real this place appears. After a restful night at Novotel Tainui Hamilton in Hamilton City, we were up early the next morning to make our way to the world famous Waitomo Caves. Our group split up with the more adventurous among us opting for a black water rafting tour, while the rest of us chose to do a combo of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Ruakuri Cave, where cave sounds were also recorded for the films. After a lunch, we headed to the quaint town of Piopio for our next Middle Earth stop, Hairy Feet Waitomo. The towering limestone outcrops were quickly recognised as the backdrop for Trollshaw Forest as seen in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Our lovely guide Suzie took us around her family’s farm, regaling us with stories of what life was like when filming for the movies was in full swing and showing us locations such as where Bilbo received ‘Sting’ and more. After a weekend of discovering film locations that we all agree surpassed our expectations, we quickly start planning our next visit to the Waikato Region, with surfing, food and cycling themed weekends all up for debate.